Pride Week Hosts Panel on Religion and Sexuality
Student Senate’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Commission welcomed anyone who was interested to the Multicultural Center for this event. A panel consisting of members of the community and students gathered to talk about personal experiences, controversies and answer questions surrounding sexuality as it relates to religion.
Students on the panel included senior Emily Willner as well as sophomores William McFarland and Whitney Washington. Unitarian Universalist Evan Young, Executive Director of United Campus Ministries, Melissa Wales and President of the Muslim Students Association, Salah Awad rounded out the panelists.
Before the start of the discussion, there were a few disclosed guidelines regarding participant involvement. These guidelines placed emphasis on respect, conduct and a discussion-based environment.
Willing panelists were asked to share his or her first experiences with religious views on sexuality. According to Evan Young’s experience with the Universalist Church, he was unaware that there was a church in existence that embraced unpopular views centered around sexuality.
“I heard individuals of the congregation speaking openly about their sexual orientation,” Young said.
Other individuals on the panel had different initial encounters with the issue including the absence of acceptance and in some cases, the absence of discussion.
“Growing up my parents were always open about sexuality,” said Willner. “In Judaism, homosexuality is not accepted, but sexuality is accepted.”
“I feel like mine was kind of a mystery to me, I struggled with it,” said McFarland. “Not in a ‘God hates me’ way, but in a why hasn’t anyone addressed the issue kind of way.”
There were several religions including Christianity and Catholicism represented by panelists and non-panelists alike. The conversation addressed the topic of debate within these individual faith-based systems concerning sexuality and receptiveness.
“I wasn’t raised in church, but now I go to a Pentecostal church … It’s very harsh, the pastor said it’s supposed to be Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, there was no openness about it … I’ll never feel completely accepted,” Washington stated.
The main question of the evening that awaited an answer dealt with the compatibility of sexuality and religion. With mixed responses from panelists, criticisms of religion as a whole were expressed by specific individuals. According to Wales, religion divides people in many ways and sexuality just happens to be one of them.
OU Pride Week’s first event ended with a question and answer segment. Third year student and Student Senate LGBT Commissioner Amelia Shaw shared her thoughts about the discussion.
“Pride week is a week that LGBT people raise awareness … there was a wide variety of people represented, and everyone was very respectful … it’s a conversation we need to keep having,” Shaw said.
The LGBT Commission will host numerous events throughout the week including discussions about homophobia, a variety show, a presentation by Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling and much more.